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Yoga for Stroke Survivors

By Walt Kilcullen

 

 

I started writing an article on fitness after a stroke and discovered there is a wealth of information out there giving great advice on keeping fit with exercise. I had almost completed the article when a member of my support group introduced me to adaptive yoga for people with disabilities. I began reading about this and realized that it would be better if I could see an adaptive yoga class in action. So last week, that is what I did.

 

The class was instructed by Della Moses Walker who was trained specifically to teach adaptive yoga at the Wellness and Enrichment Center in West Orange, New Jersey.

 

Many of the participants were stroke survivors. The emphasis was on the individual. The pace for progress was slow so that each individual could advance at his own pace.

 

Della emphasized the following:

 

Yoga is a mind body connection.

Yoga with meditation yields relaxation of the mind and body.

Breathing in yoga is an important element for relaxation and concentration.

Adaptive yoga is designed to fit individual ability.

Yoga and meditation can be done independently, but it is far more beneficial if they are done together.

 

John McClain then led the class to meditation. We all spent about fifteen minutes meditating under John’s direction. He showed us how meditation relieves tension, helps you to find peace, creates relaxation, and puts your mind in a natural state.

 

Two common problems for stroke survivors are balance and weakness affecting an arm, a leg, or both. The yoga instructor circulated and gave instruction to each participant as needed. Some students were able to sit on the floor as a regular yoga class would begin. Others were able to lie on a mat. Some were able to stand holding on to the back of a chair, while others sat in chairs.

 

In yoga, there are many yoga poses (specific positions) that the instructor uses. The goal is to improve balance, strength, flexibility, mobility, and to create an environment of relaxation through breathing techniques. Following are examples of exercises for chair yoga taken from Shirley Marotta, www.livingwordsofwisdom.com.

 

Chair Yoga

Forward Bend – eases tension in the upper back and neck. Breathe in and out as you bend forward. Let your head and arms hang over your knees. Relax into the position and hold for a few seconds and keep breathing. Breathe in as you slowly come back to a seated position.

Spiral Twist – increases circulation and flexibility in the spine. Sit facing forward placing your left hand on the outside of your right knee. Place the opposite arm over the back of the chair. Breathe in and breathe out as you twist your body to the right

 

Turn your head as well. Push against your knee with your hand. Breathe normally and hold that position. Release slowly and come back to facing forward. Repeat on the opposite side if you are able.

Side Stretch – increases flexibility of the spinal column, improves respiration, and reduces waistline.Sit facing forward with feet slightly apart, breathe in, and raise your arms out to both sides.

 

Breathe out and bend to the left, reaching toward the floor with your left hand and your right hand pointing toward the ceiling. Breathe in and come back to the starting position. Repeat with the right side.

Knee Squeeze – relaxes lower back, improves digestion and respiration. Breathe out and breathe in and put both hands around the front of your knee. Pull your left knee to your chest while holding in your breath.

 

Lower your head to your knee and hold for a few seconds. Then release slowly while breathing out. Repeat on your right side.

Leg Lifts – strengthens legs and lower back, and improves circulation to your legs and feet. Sit and hold each side of the chair for balance. Breathe out and breathe in as you lift straightened left leg and flex your foot. Hold for a few seconds and then slowly breathe out while lowering your leg. Repeat with your right leg.

Sun Pose – improves circulation to your head, massages internal organs, and limbers your spine and hips. Sit back in the chair with legs apart and arms by your side.

 

Breathe out completely then breathe in and with a sweeping motion bring your arms up over your head. Look up and stretch. Breathe out while bending forward between your legs and if possible, put your palms on the floor.

 

Slowly breathe in while rising back up with your arms over your head again, then lower your arms to the side.

 

Although the above chair exercises are beneficial, they are no substitute for adaptive yoga classes because the instructor will pattern your exercises to meet your individual abilities and needs. You can find out where you can participate in adaptive yoga classes through the closest rehabilitation hospital. You may also see if anyone in the local support group knows of such a program.

 

There are also two sources you may want to consider. The first is a video called, Yoga: Renewal of Life, by the Rocky Mountain Stroke Center. Second is a book, Recovery Yoga: A Practical Guide For Chronically Ill, Injured, and Post Operative People by Sam Dworkis.

 

 

Copyright @September 2011

The Stroke Network, Inc.

P.O. Box 492 Abingdon, Maryland 21009

All rights reserved.